September 25, 2020
Welcome to Part 2 of our series on Retail vs. Pro hand tool quality.
Check out Part 1 for the full introduction and our deep dive into Safety and Functionality. The core question we are trying to answer in this series is how to tell good from bad quality for hand tools and we do that by looking at the differences in how retail and pro hand tool companies or tool brands develop products. Part 2 of this series covers Performance and Resistance.
“…while pro brands spend a lot of their time on improving performance, retail brands spend a lot of time finding ways to cheaply mimic the pro brands and giving customers the illusion of similar performance.”
The longer I work in the tool industry, the more I am reminded of the following: some brands work really hard on performance, while other brands work really hard on what LOOKS like a performance.
Retail brands often focus their attention on selling arguments rather than on actual performance. The reason for this strange approach is for the simple reason that they cannot provide the actual performance desired in a tool at the price that they selling their products for. They use a lot of indicators that seem like performance, but in reality, it’s an illusion.
What do we mean by an illusion? This is truly one of the more complicated questions, but essentially it is the process of manipulating figures.
As we did in Part 1, let’s take, for example, a floor jack. What customers typically pay attention to is the jack’s capacity. Retail brands know that, so they compete with each other on having the highest jack capacity. When a retail brand sells a 2-Ton jack for $29.99, they are only required to say the jack is able to lift 2 tons without any certification.
However, when a pro brand sells a floor jack with a 2-Ton capacity, they almost always have it tested according to the American standard for lifting equipment, ASME PASE 2014.
This means that they have verified:
Another example is portable lighting (flashlights, work lights, area lights, etc.) and the almighty lumens capacity (what is a lumen?). Lumen measurement is done by capturing the amount of lumens collected on a light sensitive screen 1 meter (3.3 ft) away from the source. What do you think happens if a retail brand wants to increase the lumens capacity? They bring the screen closer! If their light is only 200 Lumens, they will bring the screen close enough to have 1000 Lumens. It’s why you may sometimes see a flashlight advertised as 100,000 Lumens.
Can they do that? They absolutely can. There’s no one to stop them.
This ability to fudge results into superior performance happens because there are too many different tools and not enough standards to test each of them. Also, standards, directives, and test protocols are not a requirement. And finally, while pro brands spend a lot of their time on improving performance, retail brands spend a lot of time finding ways to cheaply mimic the pro brands and giving customers the illusion of similar performance.
Don’t get us wrong, we are not recommending avoiding retail or no-name tool brands. Retail tools can work out just fine if its features and performance fits what you are looking for. What we’re saying here is:
Be careful about tools that only sell arguments and
Be realistic about the price of a quality tool
The approach we recommend is finding the right balance between your needs and your budget. For example, if you need a good flashlight to go hiking, there is absolutely no need to spend $100 on it. However, if you work in construction and you need a tool box that is reliable and efficient, $100 is typically the minimum amount you should be paying. It’s all related to your need and frequency of use. In this chart here, we show how different brands choose to position themselves in regard to focusing on real performance vs selling arguments.
“… why should I pay for resistance? Because resistance IS safety and resistance IS durability.”
This is the most misunderstood, the most under-rated and under-estimated aspect about developing tools. To understand the importance of resistance, we need to answer 3 questions:
One cannot obtain resistance just by selecting the hardest material, the best coating, or the most waterproof plastic. Resistance is measured by the ability of a tool to:
Basically, this quote sums it up,
"Resistance is common to the unusual" - Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity
Anything unusual must be tested. The temperature can change with the seasons having peaks at -68°F or 122°F in some regions. The tool must resist this entire range of temperatures without softening at high temperatures and without weakening at low temperatures.
Dozens and dozens of other parameters must be taken into consideration to obtain a truly resistant product, such as:
Once again, the testing requirements are rigorous and expensive, so the tool companies that usually perform them are usually pro brands.
Someone, let’s call him George, may argue that he bought a pair of no-name metal jack stands 3 years ago that have carried the weight of his car for over a year and he hasn’t had any resistance issues with it. And someone else, let’s call her Angela, may say that she purchased some pliers in 2002 for few dollars and the pliers are still perfectly functional today.
So, they ask, why should I pay for resistance? Because resistance is safety and resistance is durability.
If George’s jack stands were left outside for a year under a car, he will have to pray that the coating is reliable enough to prevent pitting of oxidations. Everybody knows rust weakens metal, so George’s jack stands can slip or even break during future use, which could turn into a tragedy for George if he’s under the car making repairs when this happens.
Same for Angela’s pliers, although not nearly as dangerous. If her pliers are not resistant enough, the bites may crumble, the jaws may twist, the spring may jump or break, and the sleeves may just tear off. Some brands do test for resistance with tests like open/close life-cycle tests, drop tests, aging test, sleeve pull-off test, etc.
As with the other categories we’ve covered, you always have to determine for yourself how much resistance is worth to you. If you are only using a tool a few times a year, it’s always stored inside and doesn’t pose a big safety risk, you probably won’t want to spend your time and money figuring out which tools are and are not resistant. Our recommendation would be:
Pay attention to resistance and durability indicators and decide how much value they have to you.
Whenever you want to buy a good quality tool, make a comparison, check resistance indicators such as: coating (bare material, stainless steel, Ni-Cr, zinc plating, etc.), hardness, plastic type, temperature tolerance range, water and dust resistance, etc. In the chart here, it shows the decisions that every tool brand has to make when balancing between cost and resistance.
The warranty can also be a strong indication of the tool resistance. Companies do not offer a lifetime warranty if they’re not absolutely sure that their product is resistant enough to last for a very long time, withstand a lot of abuse, and is intended for use in all environments.
To sum up, Safety, Functioning, Performance and Resistance are essentially the 4 aspects to look into when comparing tools and their quality. Hopefully, this series has given you a better high-level understanding of when, why, and how to spend or save your money. And we also hope that the next time you’re buying tools, you remember to pay attention to safety, go beyond the look and analyze the usability, be careful to avoid the illusion of sales arguments when you are looking for performance and finally keep in mind that resistance is what makes your tool durable and reliable.
Thank you for your reading and hope to see you soon for our next topics on The Tool Blog. For the next part of this series, we’ll look at specific tool categories and real-world examples of how retail and pro make decisions on how to develop a product. See you soon.
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October 26, 2020 1 Comment
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